Tyranny Isn’t Excused by Good Intentions

by Don Boudreaux on February 14, 2022

in Current Affairs, Philosophy of Freedom, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to someone who tells me, quite believably, that she’s sorry that she took her brother’s advice to check out my blog.

Ms. W__:

You’re unhappy with my linking favorably to Mary Anastasia O’Grady’s new column in which she writes that Canada is “no longer a liberal constitutional state. A coercive Ottawa rules over daily life.” And you conclude that I “and others who write like O’Grady criminally exaggerate” whenever we “imply that vaccine mandates are tyranny.” In your view, “Mr Trudeau is the farthest thing from a tyrant. He’s a good man wanting to protect Canada’s populace from a danger regardless of how many Canadians happen to be in agreement with him.”

I strongly disagree with you. Forget that vaccinations do little or nothing to stop the virus’s transmission. Forget that the public-health authorities who you hold in high esteem agree that vaccines quite reliably protect vaccinated persons from suffering severe consequences from Covid. Forget that there are real risks of vaccination borne by each vaccinated individual (however small or large that individual might assess these risks to be). And forget that it looks increasingly likely that there are effective treatments for Covid.

Instead recognize that tyranny does not miraculously disappear simply because the tyrant expresses – or even possesses – good intentions. As the long-ago American jurist James Coolidge Carter wisely observed, “Even tyranny may be beneficent in its aims, but never in its results, and the attempt to compel a community of men to do right by legislative command, when they do not think it to be right, is tyranny.”*

Beware: To excuse unprecedented state coercion today deployed to achieve what you regard as good is to ensure that you’ll tomorrow be a victim of such coercion, for tomorrow persons with whom you disagree will feel justified by the precedent that you today endorse to use tyranny to achieve what they regard as good but which you regard as evil.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

* James Coolidge Carter, Law: Its Origin, Growth and Function (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907), page 217.

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